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During Bethel visit, Murkowski talks about rural Alaska and how she plans to address issues in D.C.

Senator Lisa Murkowski at KYUK in Bethel, Alaska on April 5, 2023.
MaryCait Dolan / KYUK
Senator Lisa Murkowski at KYUK in Bethel, Alaska on April 5, 2023.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently wrapped up a state tour to meet with Alaskans. She spent time working in Anchorage, including representing the U.S. Senate at the annual Arctic Encounter Symposium, and Whittier, where she hosted Arctic dignitaries. She also took her first trip to Mekoryuk after going to Bethel.

“I haven't been back in probably about six months or so now. I was scheduled to be here in early November. And Bethel had a storm that day,” she said.

She stopped by KYUK to talk about issues facing rural Alaskans and how she plans to address them.

Murkowski traveled on the ice road with Bethel Search and Rescue in early April. The ice road is basically a federal highway used to transport goods and services, as well as connect communities.

She said she wanted to better understand how the ice road is maintained and operated to get additional funding for more snow plows and graders in the region.

Fish were also on the agenda.

“We had an opportunity yesterday afternoon to visit with the Y-K Delta Subsistence Regional Advisory Council, the RAC, to get kind of their update on subsistence issues, primarily the fishing, the salmon crisis that we have in the region,” she said. “These types of one-on-ones with folks to hear directly from them are so important.”

Murkowski also met with the Association of Village Council Presidents and Orutsararmiut leadership.

“To hear some of their high priorities to understand what’s going on with workforce shortages and what that means whether you’re in the school system or at the hospital, we visited with the [Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program] kids as well as the juniors and seniors from [Bethel Regional High School],” she said.

Access to adequate medical care in the Y-K Delta is challenging and federal data reflects this. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention From 2016 through 2018, the maternal mortality rate for American Indian and Alaska Native women was 1.9 times higher than in white women. More than 80 percent of maternal deaths are preventable, which is why Murkowski said she reintroduced legislation for pregnant women to have access to timely, high-quality care.

“This is something to respond to the high rate of maternal mortality and pregnancy related deaths among Alaska Native women and expecting mothers,” she said.” So what we’re trying to do here is to expand access to care there.”

Late last month, Murkowski was part of a bipartisan legislation which introduced a bill called the Rural American Health Corps Act. This measure incentivises and recruits healthcare workers to the state and fills critical needs including nurse practitioners and physicians assistants.

“I had an opportunity yesterday as we were at YKHC to visit with their leadership. And, and you know, you've got a beautiful new facility, they're great care provided, but they need more people in their health care workforce. And so all that we can be doing to help facilitate that, from a workforce perspective, is really significant,” she said.

Murkowski is also on the HELP Committee - it deals with health, education, labor and pensions. That includes veterans’ healthcare.

At the beginning of March, Sens. Sullivan and Murkowski, and Rep. Mary Peltola, welcomed VA Secretary Denis McDonough to the state where he listened to veterans voice their concerns and access to care in rural Alaska.

“Part of what we're focusing on right now working with the VA, is to make sure that a veteran knows what is available to them, and then to make sure that they are able to easily access it. And that doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to have a VA hospital out here. But to be able to have the care provided, we call it community care where you are, and have that be reimbursed through the VA,” she said.

Murkoswki is also on the appropriations committee – that means she can direct funds to the region. During the last cycle she helped provide funding for ecological and salmon monitoring.

Murkowski quoted a Chevak elder she spoke with at the Regional Advisory Council or RAC meeting. “If we don't catch fish, we don't eat.”

She said she will tell her colleagues in Washington, D.C., about what food security means and why salmon is a priority.

“Because people cannot understand what it means, when you come from a community where you do not have a store, when you're paying $7-a-gallon to fill up your tank, when you don't have access between your communities, a 365 days a year where you have to fly in and out when your cost of living is such if you don't have fish you don't eat,” she said.

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.
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